The past couple of years have seen the emergence of a whole new restaurant model perfectly suited to the age’s technological, social, and economic landscapes: “ghost restaurants.”
Here at the V&E Restaurant Group blog, we’re all about keeping tabs on dining trends and sharing tips for restaurant proprietors, and today—here in the Halloween season, no less—we’re going to take a closer look at this “ghostly” approach!
The Ghost Restaurant
Ghost restaurants, which go by other names such as app-based or virtual restaurants, refer to establishments that ditch the brick-and-mortar dining area and the front-of-house entirely and instead service customers entirely through food delivery, often via third-party companies.
Given the familiarity of today’s diners with online and mobile ordering and the explosion of takeout/delivery companies—not to mention the popularity of “fast-casual” and quick dining—it’s not altogether surprising that the ghost-restaurant concept emerged from a customer-service standpoint.
But going the ghost route also has more across-the-board benefits for some food businesses. Where rent is steep or real estate generally limited, a model that doesn’t require a front-of-house setup is definitely attractive, allowing a restaurant to function more exclusively around the kitchen floor plan: either less square footage to pay for, or—if using more space for food preparation—at least less outlay because there’s no public space to design and maintain. We’re talking no tables, chairs, plates, utensils, and lighting to worry about—or, more to the point, to pay for.
Besides being more space-efficient, a ghost restaurant also saves because there’s a smaller staff roster: no host/hostess, waitstaff, cashiers, etc. By partnering with third parties that pick up and bring food orders to customers, many ghost restaurants also save by not having to hire delivery people.
As this Tiger Chef blogpost notes, he ghost-restaurant model also nicely serves those restaurateurs who can’t afford their own kitchen space, thanks to the availability of commissary kitchens. Between these rentable spaces and the option of third-party delivery, a restaurant with limited capital can make an operation work with an app-based approach.
Because they have zero direct interface with customers, ghost restaurants need to aggressively pursue marketing, advertisement, and online engagement in order to promote themselves and stay on the radar. They need to interface as much as possible with customers via social media and other platforms and collaborate with delivery companies and other third-party partners on special offers.
All indications suggest that the ghost restaurant can be a viable business model, given our technologically driven world and what’s an attractive financial picture for many restaurateurs.